Loneliness has become one of the biggest threats to mental health and has reached crisis level, driven by our fast-paced modern age.
Many people now struggle with an undercurrent of emptiness, unhappiness, and loneliness which, if sustained, can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It is an especially common feeling for mothers and one of the biggest challenges that they face with a new baby.
The Link Between Loneliness, Depression, and Anxiety
While there are many benefits to the tech-focused world we live in today, modern life has proven to have detrimental effects on the authentic, high-quality social connections that humans need to flourish.
We are inherently social creatures and used to live in a community; however, we have been living counter-intuitively to that instinct, living in isolation from each other even if we are in a house full of people. It once took a village to raise a child; now people live thousands of miles away from their friends and family.
An increasing number of people don’t have a confidant or a solid support system to rely on, which contributes to a deepened sense of isolation.
The rise and heightened use of screens also have an alarmingly negative effect on social well-being and the quality of interaction between people. A study by Pew Research Centre discovered that 82% of adults felt their phone usage hurt conversations in social settings.
Screen time and social media interaction is now replacing one-on-one face time and has been linked to depression and suicidal tendencies in adolescents, while other studies like Harvard’s 80-year longevity study has found that social connection is key to greater happiness, well-being and a long life.
While the link between loneliness and depression is well-known, a study has additionally revealed that loneliness and anxiety are also correlated with each other and can contribute to low self-esteem, lessened social skills, and anger, amongst other things.
It can additionally breed physical health risks, with one study finding that those who feel lonely have an increased chance of coronary heart disease and stroke. Being lonely also causes stress, and stress in turns fuels the loneliness.
It is a vicious cycle and one that can trigger and put mothers at greater risk for mental and physical health problems.
Loneliness As a Mother
It is completely normal to experience loneliness as a mother.
When the rush and excitement that comes with a newborn fades, a feeling of isolation can creep in. Among the sleepless nights, financial worries and new responsibilities, the opportunities to attend gatherings and interact with your friends decrease significantly.
This inflexibility comes with the territory of being a new parent, but this can often lead to a feeling that you are living in a different world from your friends and are being left out of the loop. Loneliness settles in from spending extended periods of time with a baby and without adult company.
The responsibility of having a human entirely dependant on you also means that your needs can often go unmet if you don’t have a solid support system.
This is not an unusual situation. Research from Action of Children revealed that 52% of mothers and fathers admitted they suffered from loneliness. Many of them reported that financial struggle and inability to leave the house contributed to their feelings of isolation, and more than two-thirds admitted that they felt ‘cut-off’ from friends and family since the birth of their children.
Even so, mothers find it difficult to ask for help or effectively discuss the problem, leaving them confused and further cut off from the support they need.
The feeling of loneliness from having a new baby is one that is shared by many different kinds of mothers all around the world.
- Women who are pregnant can feel stressed, brought on by the life-altering changes a newborn will bring, like changes in career, financial strain and moving houses. This stress can be a trigger for prenatal depression and loneliness.
- New mum loneliness is triggered as the first-time experience of being a mother is extremely hard and a shock physically, emotionally and mentally. Without the well-rounded support they need, they can easily feel forgotten about.
- Mothers on maternity leave struggle with being plucked from a busy, interactive working environment to one where they are alone in a quiet room with a baby who has no comprehension of their words or needs.
- Single mum loneliness occurs when the highs and lows of parenting are not experienced and shared with a partner, easily bringing in a feeling of being overwhelmed and alone.
- Loneliness as a mum in a relationship or in a marriage is also very possible and they can experience a crippling “invisible loneliness” by having a partner who makes them feel misunderstood or uncared for. There are mothers who still need someone to listen to and validate their feelings, even though they are in a relationship. It is worth remembering that even if you are surrounded by people, you can still feel emotionally abandoned simply because of the quality, not quantity, of your relationships.
Loneliness does not just affect the mother either; a study has shown that mothers who experience depression and loneliness during pregnancy predicted higher rates of physician visits and respiratory tract infections in the baby.
Furthermore, another study has found that mothers who feel lonely raising a child have a higher possibility of depression and the deterioration of their health.
How To Cope With Loneliness As a Mother
It is important to remember that different people need different kinds of social connections; some are content with having a few close friends, while others are satisfied with a large group of acquaintances. One of the first steps in dealing with loneliness is understanding what kind of social interaction you need, and how often.
To crave friendship and company is normal; interactions with your child is not a substitute for adult connection. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you are feeling lonely, especially if you have a lot of people around you, and there is no shame in it.
There are plenty of ways to cope with the challenges of loneliness.
Here are some simple and effective ways to cope with loneliness as a mother:
- Get out of the house, even if it is just to get a coffee or watch a movie. Say hello to people along the way and engage in small talk.
- Lean on and invest in your existing support system. This may mean moving closer to family and friends for help. If that is not possible, set up a weekly FaceTime or Skype chat with your loved ones. Don’t be afraid to open up, share your feelings and ask for help; you may be amazed at how many people feel the same way.
- Arrange a weekly play-date or coffee catch-up. This will give you something to look forward to and a face-to-face interaction you can rely on.
- Join online communities, support groups, and parenting blogs. Never underestimate the power of community, even if it is just online – many online interactions have turned into real-life friendships. Facebook has a plethora of groups for mothers where you can find support, encouragement and keep updated on events, especially during the school holidays. The 2 AM Club, MummyLinks and NCT in the UK can also help connect you with other parents.
- Make use of parenting apps. Mush is an app founded by mums Katie Massie-Taylor and Sarah Hesz that matches mothers based on location and the age of the child. Users can arrange playdates and make friends with other mothers. The Peanut App and Pal are also similar options.
- Keep busy and engage yourself in existing and new interests. Reading, meditating, picking up a new fitness class, volunteering, taking long walks or going out to playgroups can help keep your sanity.
- Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. This can give you a sense of connection with the world and provide you with invaluable mental and emotional stimulation.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure that you are prioritizing sleep, exercising, eating well and investing in self-care. Schedule a night per week where you can pamper yourself. Learn to enjoy your own company.
- For those of you who feel loneliness within a partnership, one of the best things you can do is communicate your feelings and needs clearly to your partner and build connections outside of your relationship. It is unfair to expect him to meet all your needs, and constructing an expansive network of support will help get your needs met in more ways than one.
Remember that you are truly never alone and nothing lasts forever; one day your child will grow up and venture on his or her own in the world, leaving you to live your own life again.
For now, take each day as it comes and allow your heart to open up in your loneliness. It will only become worse with resistance and further self-isolation, so make the decision to reach out to the abundance of people and support groups who want to see you thrive as a mother.